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Students who missed class after Sandy now have online option

Students at Brooklyn's Olympus Academy, a transfer high school, use online learning to move ahead at their own pace.

To help students whose homes and schools were damaged in Hurricane Sandy make up for the days of learning time they lost, the Department of Education is expanding its online course offerings to them.

Most schools have returned to working order since Sandy left dozens of them flooded or without power, and attendance is slowly rising. But department officials say they are concerned that students who missed many days of school, or continue to miss school because their home situations prevent them from getting to school, will fall behind.

The solution they’ve devised is to expand online courses that some schools are already offering to more students. The courses will be open to most students whose homes or schools were affected by the hurricane, and will count for credit towards graduation. The opportunity has the potential to reach students who otherwise might not be able to make up classwork they have missed during the school day. But it requires internet access, which many still lack.

“The goal is to help kids get as much instruction as possible,” said department spokeswoman Connie Pankratz. “We were able to build this up really quickly beause we had this platform already existing.”

She said the specific program offerings and the cost to the department will be determined by the demand of the students who end up enrolling, and thousands are eligible. But the cost is not likely to be high because the organizations that created the software are allowing the department to use them for free.

The courses will be available to students in grades six through 12, in core subject areas and electives, such as English, economics, calculus, world history and Spanish. To enroll, students must first fill out an online form detailing which courses they would like to continue taking online from among the courses they have been taking in school.

The courses have already been developed through the department’s iZone and iLearn programs, which have spearheaded the creation of online courses and other digital learning tools, and meet state requirements. They will be taught by about 60 iZone teachers who have regular course-loads during the school day and will be paid per session for their extra work. Those teachers will also hold weekly office hours for students via the phone or video conferencing platforms, officials said.

About 200 schools already belong to the iZone and use some of its tools, and the department hopes to further bolster its online learning offerings with Race to the Top funds, if it wins the district-level competition that it entered this month.

Officials suggested that displaced students who don’t have internet access at home should go to local libraries to sign on. Library officials said that library branches around the city will welcome students.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

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Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.